CHARLOTTE, NC, April 30, 2017 – Each of has experienced serendipitous moments in our lives where the planets align and everything comes together to perfection. Such events are rare but often so meaningful that no matter hard we try, there’s no way to reproduce the magic in just the same way.
As I recall my high school graduation class had about 400 to 450 students in 1963. Since those halcyon days some departed far too soon in the rice fields of Vietnam. Others disappeared through natural attrition or simply took the first fork in the road and were never heard from again.
The one thing I remember about my class was how smart my classmates were as a group. Intelligent, mischievous and talented. We had fun and our teachers had fun with us. There was no animosity in the halls as there is in many schools around the country today. Our class did things together; sock hops, plays, weekend get togethers and all manner of extracurricular activities outside the usual sports, band concerts and other pastimes.
In fact, and my memory could be slipping, our football marching band only had enough members during my sophomore year to line up on the 50 yard line. For us, a formation was a lower case letter “l”.
Perhaps what made it so special however is that we, as a class were about as close to being brothers and sisters as you could get without knowing it.
We celebrated our 50th high school reunion in 2013 in Charlotte. It was the usual renewal of old friendships and back slapping and hugging and telling stories about our days before the world got serious.
Shortly after the reunion, one of our classmates, who happened to be the videographer for the event, passed away. It was far too early for him to leave us, but the void he left quickly reminded each of us how vulnerable we are at this time in our lives.
Much as we may try to “pretend” we are immortal, we all know that we have lived more days on this earth than we have left. That realization came to me quickly in September of last year when my doctor said, “You have ALS. There is no cure.”
Since our 50th reunion, several of my classmates have decided to hold a mini-gathering each year between the five-year segments of the big reunions. It may sound sort of like “musical chairs” for the survivors, but in truth, it has far greater meaning.
The total number including spouses at these annual weekends comes to about 30 people. While any and all of our classmates are invited, since they are “off-year” gatherings, they primarily consist of people who live roughly within a two-hour drive.
This year, however, something magical happened. It was the perfect storm of personalities, hospitality, camaraderie, and nostalgia where the true meaning of those high school years merged into a charismatic celebration that nobody could have predicted or quite put their finger on.
Two of the organizers of the mini-reunion have, or had, young grandchildren who are dealing with medical procedures that are scary and threatening for anyone, much less someone so young.
And yet, they persevered to make sure that their fellow classmates would not be disappointed due to their own personal family situations. Another class member flew in from the Netherlands even though his mother-in-law is scheduled for legal euthanasia early in May.
When we all came together for the first time on Friday night, there was a genuine concern and caring for our long time friends and the well-being of their families. And yet, there was also an intangible element that transcended the moment.
It was a subliminal, yet individual sensation, that each of us felt. It was as though a sudden lightening bolt had skipped over five decades of separation to bring us together in a way that each of us understood even if we did not understand why, how or what caused it.
People who may have only been casual friends in the halls had somehow reunited to reinforce the powerful bond of friendship that had never faded away.
There was raucous laughter. There were silent tears of joy. There were recollections of teachers and classroom pranks.
But, most of all, there was love and compassion.
There was a concern for my personal battle with ALS and genuine conversation about the disease, what to expect and how to survive.
Our high school principal, a very proper and dignified educator name D.K. Pittman, used to always remind us that we should be proud to be East Eagles and to always “Remember who you are, and where you are from.”
This weekend I spent time renewing acquaintances with lifelong friends who I thought that time forgot. But true to Mr. Pittman’s motto, none of them ever did.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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